Friday, 26 October 2012

bicycle ambassador

Waterloo Region is getting some things very right regarding my favourite way of getting around the place.

This makes me happy.

For one thing, increasingly, there is a recognition that the bicycle is a valid transportation option. We are slowly getting more MUPs built which actually go someplace vs purely for recreation MUPs in suburbia which seem to just go in circles within one large suburban block.

A new(ish) MUP style, for here anyways, is in place on Fischer-Hallman Road which formally divides pedestrian and cycling traffic and attempts to ease some congestion. The idea is to make things safer for all trail users and see if people want or will use MUPs which link together existing trail infrastructure. This idea is not new, and has been in place in other parts of the world for decades. But it is very nice to see it happening here at last.

Also, the Region, in conjunction with its planners and The Working Center, have hired some bicycle ambassadors to hang out in places that bicycle riders are and, well, be friendly to people.

Here is one, perched atop one of Kitchener's trail blocking gates along the Iron Horse Trail. (I am not a fan of these stupid things - they are dangerous, and have contributed to injuries in the past and one person's death.)

Anyways, I digress, like normal.

These ambassadors meet and greet people and are there to promote cycling safety by educating bicycle riders on how to ride in a safer, legal, and more friendly manner. Motorists are also being given an education under this program.

Personally, I love it. My friends and I have been trying for a while now to figure out how come the cycling community, such as it is, seems to be on the receiving end of harassment on the road ways of this region. The idea is that if we could understand what motivates some people to act in a psychotic manner, that we might be able to come up with actual workable solutions to a real problem on our roads instead of just becoming upset. We made the following observations:

  • People in the last few years seem generally angry - cue higher cost of living, cost of gas, poor economy, job losses, etc
  • People, when angry, act out in ways which they would not otherwise - people are generally good I think, right? When given half a chance?
  • There are elements in our society who think, erroneously, that gasoline tax pays for roads - property tax does, as well as transfers from higher levels of government - this is an often expressed comment that I have heard more than once from more than one source and is a source of contention for some people.
  • These same people think, again erroneously, that cyclists are freeloaders who do not pay for the roads (read comments in the local paper whenever an article about bikes is written to see what I mean) and therefore have no business being on them. The law says otherwise, and historically, the roads as we know them today in North America were the result of lobbying by cyclists who, numbering in the tens of thousands, wanted better surfaces to ride on than were needed by buggies...
  • Traffic is heavy and congested and is getting worse. I cannot believe how long it takes to get around this city now in my car compared to how long it takes on my bikes.
  • Cyclists are not affected by traffic much because of the size of our vehicles and dedicated lanes - add to that we often don't have to stop (it is far easier to time it with traffic lights on a bike than in a car because traffic pressures are different)...
  • Many cyclists are total scofflaws who run red lights, stop signs, ride on the sidewalks, go the wrong way on the road, have not figured out what a light is, and generally are a pain in the ass which causes the already frustrated motorist to say "See?!?" and respond negatively towards people on bikes. 
  • The flip side of this is that many cyclists see the atrocious behaviour of some members of the motoring public towards cyclists and say "See?!?" right back at them and respond negatively as well - dumb dumb dumb all around.
  • Regarding the sidewalks though, consider this: Why do cyclists use the sidewalk? Many are just plain scared to ride on the road because of the behaviour of motorists. They say that they would rather take the car than put themselves at that kind of risk. They say they want to ride, but are to afraid to and this pushes them onto the sidewalk where they are actually more at risk and can harm others. Personally, I think the risk of riding in traffic is overstated, but people make decisions based on their perceptions of facts, not on the facts themselves (you are more likely to die falling down the stairs in your house than riding your bike for example, yet people keep going into those basements!!!) Edit to add: This does not excuse the riding on the sidewalk, but does explain it. Speaking for myself, when I feel forced onto the sidewalk - something which happens rarely - I get off the bike and walk.
  • Also, many people in North America see bicycles as toys or sporting equipment only and do not understand that in most, if not all, jurisdictions in North America bicycles are considered a vehicle and must follow the same rules as other vehicle traffic when using public roadways. People on bikes need to realize this and behave accordingly and respect other traffic. People in cars need to realize this and recognise that bikes have a right to be on the road and must treat cyclists as if they were any other slower moving piece of traffic when passing, etc. Co-operation is the key.
So what to do?

A basic understanding that everyone is just trying to get someplace and would like to do so in peace would be a good way to start. How someone chooses to move about does not matter, what matters is that they want to do so in peace.

That's it.

Something else to think about though.

Cyclists take note - you are not being picked on by people in cars. Honest. People in cars who "teach you a lesson" by getting too close, buzz you, honk in a way to cause you to startle, cut you off, etc are not giving you any special treatment. They do this to other people in cars as well. Just watch traffic carefully sometime. Some people just, as they said in the movie Groundhog Day, drive angry. Sadly, the consequences of this behaviour almost always end in tragedy for everyone involved when a car connects with a bicycle. It would not surprise me if those on bikes who break seem to break every rule in the book would do so in a car as well. It is people, not their chosen mode of transport, that is the issue.

Which, in a round about way, brings me back to the ambassadors. They are wonderful. cheerful, and put a happy face on the cycling world for both users of bikes and others. They are giving out these nifty booklets as well to help educate people on bicycles. Here is a pdf of it from the region:

It contained no surprises for me, but is a very good idea for those who may not be aware of what it contains.

Good job Region.

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